Socialist Worker

Community pays for new numbers racket

The government managed to scrape its gambling bill through the House of Commons last week despite a revolt by backbench MPs. Simon Basketter looks at the impact the plans are having in one part of north London

Issue No. 1926

A local community is being torn apart as private developers get the go-ahead from New Labour to build a Las Vegas style casino in Wembley, in the shadow of the new national stadium.

Caesar Entertainment Incorporated plans to build a casino with 75,000 square feet of gaming space and 1,250 slot machines.

Alongside the casino, the developers are set to build an “entertainment resort” with a 400-room luxury hotel, restaurants and bars, designer shops and 3,700 new homes.

The whole development shows what lies behind New Labour’s plan to allow multinational gambling outfits to take over prime locations and build dozens of giant casinos.

According to John Ridge, a member of one local residents’ committee, “This area is a mess. There is huge development, but local people in the area are just in the way as far as the developers are concerned.

“All they want is a supply of people to work in the development, but they don’t care about how we live at all.

“They have permission for what the council call ‘homes’ but which are in fact luxury apartments.

“I suppose it will mean that the people who can afford to live here will be able to afford to lose money in a casino.”

In the run-down shopping centre around Wembley Central station, most of the shops and cafes in what had been the heart of the Somali community in the area have closed down.

The “regeneration” has squeezed the tenants out.

According to Yusef, who works in one of the few remaining Somali cafes, “I would like the station and the area to be improved, but why should that mean that our community has to close down so they can have a casino?”

Behind the plan is Quintain, the joint developer of the disastrous Millennium Dome.

Its plans have been approved by the government, the Greater London Authority and Labour-run Brent council.

Caesar Entertainment has paid lobbyists to persuade government ministers to lift restrictions on operating casinos.

A bank which finances casinos around the world, CIBC, organised two private meetings between Tessa Jowell’s department of culture and representatives of the gaming industry.

The whole Wembley development is going ahead under a scheme whereby the developers can give a cash payment to Brent council rather than providing social housing to the benefit of local people.

This has become a reliable way of gaining planning permission. But there are no guarantees about whether this will bring any benefits to the local community.

A spokesman for Caesar Entertainment said, “It’s too early to quantify what the regenerative benefits will be for the area around Wembley, and this is a matter for discussion.”

Stephen Games is the secretary of one of the residents’ associations that have joined forces to protest against the development.

He points out, “As usual, residents have been left behind in all this.”

Local people, shops, cafes and amenities will all be pushed out to let multinationals move in.

Some people have had their tenancy agreements terminated.

Other people are moving out because they are fearful of what the future will mean.

They are scared that their streets will be turned into rat runs and their shops will be forced to close down.

Close-knit communities are being ripped apart. And the casino has not even been built yet.

No wonder local residents and community groups are joining together to fight this blight on their area.

Signs going up in north London say, “Wembley is not for sale.”

It’s not exactly the reaction the government had in mind when it set about pushing gambling in working class areas.

This is New Labour’s vision of regenerating communities—flogging everything off to the highest bidder, then building casinos to pacify people with fake dreams.


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News
Sat 6 Nov 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1926
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